Chevron CEO: Nations pursuing fossil fuels over emissions reduction is 'not my call'

After Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast, Democrats have sounded calls to work on climate change legislation.

And President Obama — who largely had been mum on the topic during the campaign — also pledged to address climate change, though he has not detailed any plans to do so.

Following Sandy, the idea of a carbon tax started to generate new attention, too, though Capitol Hill interest never appeared to be strong. Policy wonks and climate activists viewed it as a way to reduce emissions and raise revenues.

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But Watson, taking a cue from Republicans, said the economy is too fragile to handle climate measures that would increase the cost of using fossil fuels.

“I think that’s part of the reason why the president said now is not the time for a carbon tax, because he (Obama) recognized that that would put pressure on the economy and put pressure on our energy prices, put pressure on manufacturing business, put pressure on consumers,” Watson said.

Oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. said earlier this month that it was not pushing for a carbon tax. However, it also said that such a tax was the best option if lawmakers were to price greenhouse gas emissions.

Building on his carbon tax comments, Watson explained that the economy is why the United States should not attempt to unilaterally address the causes of global warming.

Watson suggested governments are turning more to cheaper fossil fuel energy to jumpstart their economies. He said the U.S. would put itself at a competitive disadvantage by breaking from that trend.

“Governments around the world are making the choice that the benefits of lifting people out of squalor are very important. And affordable energy is the way to get there. And that currently comes through oil, gas and coal,” Watson said.

On that front, Watson said he envisions an expansion of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas.

“I see very little obstacle to it, notwithstanding all the rhetoric,” Watson said.

The fracking process injects a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into tight shale formations to tap hydrocarbons. It has been credited with driving the domestic oil-and-gas boom.

While the natural-gas industry says the method is safe, green groups are pushing back because of concerns that fracking might contaminate groundwater and that it releases heat-trapping methane gas.

Watson noted some local governments have expressed “anxieties” about fracking, and have sought to restrict, halt or ban the practice. He said industry needs to work with those entities to calm such fears.

To that end, the Obama administration has praised states’ abilities to monitor fracking. The White House, however, is planning to roll out fracking rules on federal lands next year.

Industry has aired concerns about such rules, expressing worries that they might be too broad and prescriptive.

Still, Watson said the U.S. has a regulatory framework that makes it “a good place to do business.”

“When I met with the president with some of my colleagues a couple weeks ago, that (regulation) was the first thing that people talked about. It wasn't about taxes per se, it was about staying competitive,” Watson said.